With training camp underway, I think it's a perfect time to see the changes made by each team in the AFC over the off-season. I will break down each team's additions, re-signs, departures and rookies drafted, as well as give my outlook on what they will do this season.
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: WR Brandon Lloyd, CB Will Allen, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, FS Steve Gregory, WR Donte’ Stallworth
-Rookies: DE Chandler Jones, ILB Dont'a Hightower, FS Tavon Wilson, DE Jake Bequette, DB Nate Ebner, CB Alfonzo Dennard, WR Jeremy Ebert
-Key Departures: LT Matt Light (retirement), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, CB Antwaun Molden
-Outlook: The Patriots are who you think they are! Brady has been out-classed by Eli Manning the last 3 times they’ve faced each other. Brady is after Montana to be crowned the best QB in NFL history. The reason Montana has that label to some is because he is 4/4 in Super Bowl appearances. Brady has won 3 and suffered defeat twice, both times to Eli Manning and the New York Football Giants. They had the 2nd worse defense last year. But with the addition to rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, Safety Steve Gregory and OLB Trevor Scott, I am sure we’ll see drastic improvements from their defense this upcoming season. Trevor Scott was the Oakland Raiders best pass rusher two seasons ago until suffering from a torn ACL. He should be healthy this upcoming season. Chandler Jones was my favorite rookie out of the entire draft. Expect him to make an immediate impact. He is penciled in as my DROY already. Brandon Lloyd fits the Patriots offense perfectly. And with the addition of Shiancoe, don’t be surprised if the Pats start to run 3 TE sets. Their two (Gronk and Hernandez) are already two of the best in the league. The only disgruntled person in the locker room might be Wes Welker, who is on a franchise tender and wants a new contract. He isn’t on any page of the Patriots new NFL calendar, so this might be his last year calling Gillette Stadium home.
-Prediction: 1st in division, 12-4 overall
New York Jets
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: QB Tim Tebow, FS Laron Landry, RT Jeff Otah, SS Yeremiah Bell, K Josh Brown, QB Mark Sanchez, LB Bryan Thomas
-Rookies: DE Quinton Coples, WR Stephen Hill, OLB Demario Davis, S Josh Bush, RB Terrance Ganaway, OG Robert Griffin, SS Antonio Allen, WR Jordan White
-Key Departures: FS Jim Leonhard, RB LaDanian Tomlinson (retirement), SS Brodney Pool, CB Marquice Cole, LB Jamaal Westerman
-Outlook: This team has divas throughout their organization. Arguably the biggest one in the entire NFL is WR Santonio Holmes. They have QB controversy going on, as they gave Mark Sanchez an extension, but later traded for Tim Tebow. Now they don’t know who to start. On top of that, the best CB in all of football, Darrelle Revis, is holding out and will not report to training camp without a new contract. He and GM Mike Tannenbaum do not have the best relationship. I am sure they’ll eventually pay him, but no one knows when. Shonn Green is not a starting RB in the NFL, so that is another problem they have. The Jets have a lot to figure out.
-Prediction: 4th in division, 6-10 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: WR Chad Johnson, G Eric Steinbach, DB Richard Marshall, WR Legedu Naanee, QB David Garrard
-Rookies: QB Ryan Tannehill, OT Jonathan Martin, DE Olivier Vernon, TE Michael Egnew, RB Lamar Miller, OLB Josh Kaddu, WR B.J. Cunningham, DT Kheeston Randall, WR Rishard Matthews
-Key Departures: OT Marc Colombo, WR Brandon Marshall, QB Chad Henne, SS Yeremiah Bell, DE Phillip Merling
-Outlook: The Dolphins have a crowded backfield, above average front 7 on defense, and questionable secondary to go along with their suspect WR group. To make matters worse, they have 3 QBs, none who are penciled in as the starter leading into training camp. Tannehill, Garrard and Matt Moore will duke it out in camp. Not sure if Garrard will make the team if he doesn’t impress the coaching staff in training camp. He missed the entire 2011 season with a back injury. Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush, Lamar Miller and Steve Slaton are the RBs on the depth chart. Slaton might be the odd man out, as they got a steal with Miller in the 4th round, Thomas is only in his second year and Reggie Bush is coming off the best season of his career. They traded Brandon Marshall for late draft picks, and recently signed veteran WR Chad Johnson. The most reliable player on their offense is Devon Bess. After him, there is a he drop off at WR. I’m sure Chad has something left in the tank, but how much is the question. Cameron Wake is the best player on their defense, and one of the best outside pass rushers in the league. I predict a breakout season for CB Sean Smith. His physicality, speed and huge frame makes him an intimidating corner. He had a decent year last season, but I think he’ll get a lot more recognition this year. Until they figure out this quarterback dilemma they have going on, we don’t know what to expect from Miami’s offense. Their defense is always consistent, but they lost DC Mike Nolan. We’ll see if they can keep it together.
-Prediction: 3rd in division, 7-9 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: DE Mario Williams, DE Mark Anderson, QB Vince Young, WR Stevie Johnson
-Rookies: CB Stephon Gilmore, T Cordy Glenn, WR T.J. Graham, OLB Nigel Bradham, CB Ron Brooks, T Zebrie Sanders, OLB Tank Carder, OG Mark Asper, K John Potter
-Key Departures: OT Demetress Bell, WR Roscoe Parrish, CB Drayton Florence
-Outlook: Getting a healthy Fred Jackson and Kyle Williams back speaks volume for Bills Mafia. On paper, they have arguably the best front 4 in the NFL with Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus and Mark Anderson. They were a 3-4 defense last year, but new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt plans to put them in a traditional 4-3 based defense. Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Kirk Morrison is an above average starting LB group. If there are any questions on their defense it’ll be in their secondary. They are fairly young and inexperienced. Arguably their best defensive back is only in his second year in the pros, Aaron Williams. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a stellar first half of the season, but was dreadful the second half. That could have been because of the loss to Fred Jackson who led the team in all-purpose yards and was second in rushing yards prior to his injury. Despite the explosiveness of their offense from the running game and Stevie Johnson, I expect their defense to carry the team this season. Also, this is a make or break season for C.J. Spiller. Hope he doesn’t go down as a bust.
-Prediction: 2nd in division, 9-7 overall
-Key Arrivals: QB Peyton Manning, TE Joel Dreessen, CB Tracy Porter, CB Drayton Florence, WR Brandon Stokley, TE Jacob Tamme
-Rookies: DT Derek Wolfe, QB Brock Osweiler, RB Ronnie Hillman, CB Omar Bolden, C Philip Blake, DT Malik Jackson, OLB Danny Trevathan
-Key Departures: QB Tim Tebow, FS Brian Dawkins, DT Ryan McBean, WR Eddie Royal, DE Derrick Harvey
-Outlook: Already penciled in as several people’s Super Bowl favorite with the addition to Peyton Manning, Denver has a lot to prove this season. People whisper “if Tebow can take that team to the playoffs, Manning can take them to the Super Bowl.” Blasphemous. Manning will have a good year with Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Joel Dreessen at TE. The Broncos defense was stellar last season with an impressive rookie year from 2nd overall pick Von Miller. Their defense was on the field for probably longer than any other team in the league. They held their water when facing tough offenses. I think we’ll see similar results this upcoming season, as Peyton Manning will eat up a lot of time on the clock, giving the defense the rest they need. One question I have on their defense is can they hang in there without the captain of their defense DJ Williams for the first 6 games of the season? Another one is can Rahim Moore step up and fill the shoes that Brian Dawkins left vacant at the safety spot? He was a standout at UCLA; and after being drafted in the second round last season, he was a bit of a let down. Tracy Porter and Champ Bailey is an experienced CB tandem. 2nd year CB Chris Harris had a decent rookie year, and I thin he will only continue to learn from Bailey and now Porter.
Prediction: 3rd in division, 9-7 overall
Kansas City Chiefs
-Key Additions: OT Eric Winston, CB Stanford Routt, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, FS Abram Elam, QB Brady Quinn
-Rookies: DT Dontari Poe, OT Jeff Allen, OT Donald Stephenson, WR Devon Wylie, CB DeQuan Menzie, RB Cyrus Gray, DT Jerome Long, WR Junior Hemingway
-Key Departures: TE Leonard Pope, QB Kyle Orton, CB Brandon Carr, RB Thomas Jones, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Jackie Battle, FB Le'Ron McClain
-Outlook: The Chiefs have an opportunity to be this years’ version of the 2011 49ers. The thing that I believe is holding them back is the starting QB. Matt Cassel is coming off a season ending injury. They played very well with Kyle Orton. I’m not sure if Cassel is the guy for the job. But with their offense getting Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki back, Cassel might not have to do much, except manage the game like Alex Smith. They have other offensive weapons in Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Johnathan Baldwin and Kevin Boss. Their defense gets all-pro safety Eric Berry back. MLB Derrick Johnson and OLB Tamba Hali are coming off career years, statistically. The addition to rookie Dontari Poe with Tyson Jackson and Glen Dorsey should be a run-stopping DL in a 3-4 base defense. Bowe is very frustrated, as he is playing the season on the franchise tender and looking for a long-term contract. That can be bad for the locker room. Romeo Crennel gets another HC chance. He has the talent on both sides of the ball. But will they be disciplined and have the camaraderie that we expect they should have?
Prediction: 1st in division, 11-5 overall
San Diego Chargers
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: WR Robert Meachem, RB Jackie Battle, T Aubrayo Franklin, FB Le'Ron McClain, OLB Jarret Johnson, WR Eddie Royal
-Rookies: DE Melvin Ingram, DT Kendall Reyes, SS Brandon Taylor, TE Ladarius Green, G Johnnie Troutman, C David Molk, RB Edwin Baker
-Key Departures: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, FS Steve Gregory, DE Luis Castillo, QB Billy Volek
-Outlook: Every year, the San Diego Chargers disappoints a lot of Vegas gamblers. Everyone always has high expectations for the Chargers. This year isn’t any different. In 2012, the Chargers had the #1 ranked offense and defense, and failed to make the playoffs. Many believe that they will be a disappointment for as long as A.J. Smith is their GM and Norv Turner the Head Coach. There might be some truth to that.
-Prediction: 4th in division, 8-8 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: CB Ron Bartell, G Mike Brisiel, LB Phillip Wheeler, RB Mike Goodson
-Rookies: OT Tony Bergstrom, OLB Miles Burris, DE Jack Crawford, WR Juron Criner, DT Christo Bilukidi, OLB Nathan Stupar
-Key Departures: CB Stanford Routt, TE Kevin Boss, LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell
-Outlook: The Oakland Raiders are a tricky team to evaluate. They have one of the best RBs in the NFL, but has a hard time staying healthy. Their entire organization is heading in a completely new direction after losing owner Al Davis. If any area is suspect in Oakland, it is the Cornerback position. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer will head in to camp as the starters, but 2nd year CBs DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa are on their heels. They have a talented young WR core which features Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and rookie Juron Criner. David Ausberry is too talented to not be the starting TE heading into the season. Other than Darren McFadden’s health, the biggest question with their offense is can Carson Palmer adjust to a new system with the Zone Blocking Scheme (ZBS). The ZBS features a lot of bootlegging, relying on the QB’s athleticism to get out the pocket in passing situations. They can go anywhere from 5-11 to 11-5. They are headed in the right direction, and get their best DL Matt Shaughnessy back, who missed 13 games last season with a broken shoulder. Shaughnessy started in 8 games his rookie year and recorded 7 sacks. Richard Seymour calls him the best run-stopping DL in the league. We will see how good Shaughnessy, along with the rest of the team does, as QB Carson Palmer gets a full offseason to learn the playbook and know his WRs.
Prediction: 2nd in division, 10-6 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: WR Jacoby Jones, CB Corey Graham, DT Ryan McBean, QB Curtis Painter, CB Lardarius Webb
-Rookies: OLB Courtney Upshaw, T Kelechi Osemele, RB Bernard Pierce, G Gino Gradkowski, S Christian Thompson, CB Asa Jackson, WR Tommy Streeter, DE DeAngelo Tyson
-Key Departures: RB Ricky Williams, LB Jarrett Johnson, OG Ben Grubbs, WR Lee Evans, CB Domonique Foxworth
-Outlook: Baltimore came one play away from being in last seasons’ Super Bowl. The play when Patriots’ CB Sterling Moore slapped the ball out of Lee Evans’ hands was a catch, but ruled an incompletion. Then Billy Cundiff missed the field goal that would have put the game in overtime. With training camp being here, they’ll be without Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs for a couple of weeks. And Ed Reed has been pondering with retirement for the past few years, but stated he’ll report to camp. When is the question. Bernard Price gives them a similar dimension to the running game that Ricky Williams gave them, but with more versatility. They also drafted University of Miami WR Tommy Streeter, who stands at 6’5” and ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at last years’ combine. With Streeter, Jones, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, they have a great core of WRs for Flacco to spread the ball to. Can’t forget about Ed Dickson at TE. Courtney Upshaw draws a lot of comparisons to Terrell Suggs; If he lives up to the expectations and they get a healthy Sergio Kindle, that will be one gruesome pass rush. Don’t be surprised if they represent the AFC in this years’ Super Bowl.
-Prediction: 1st in division, 13-3 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis, CB Jason Allen, CB Terence Newman
-Rookies: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, G Kevin Zeitler, DT Devon Still, WR Mohamed Sanu, DT Brandon Thompson, TE Orson Charles, CB Shaun Prater, WR Marvin Jones, FS George Iloka, RB Dan Herron
-Key Departures: WR Jerome Simpson, RB Cedric Benson, LB Keith Rivers, S Chris Crocker
-Outlook: When talking about a young team developing camaraderie, the Cincinnati Bengals immediately comes to mind. They have more cap than any other team in the NFL. But you didn’t see them making the biggest splash in free agency or trading players to move up in the draft. That wasn’t needed due in part to former Oakland Raiders Head Coach and new Bengals Special Teams coordinator Hue Jackson, who traded Oakland’s 2012 1st rounder and a conditional 2013 pick (turns out to be a 2nd rounder) for QB Carson Palmer. Hue Jackson being there may be a nuisance to the young Bengals organization. He has a great relationship with owner Mike Brown, and the Bengals haven’t been in contract talks with Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Once Brown hired Hue to be Special Teams coordinator, it looked very evident that he hired him to soon replace Marvin Lewis. Hue has zero experience as a special teams coordinator, and Lewis made the hiring of almost everyone on his coaching staff. With owner Mike Brown hiring Hue Jackson, don’t be surprised if Lewis is fired after the 2012 season and Jackson is promoted to Head Coach, don’t say I didn’t tell you so! That being said, I think they’ll have a far less impressive season this year in comparison to 2012.
-Prediction: 3rd in division, 6-10 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: DE Frostee Rucker, DE Juqua Parker, LB D'Qwell Jackson
-Rookies: RB Trent Richardson, QB Brandon Weeden, T Mitchell Schwartz, DT John Hughes, WR Travis Benjamin, ILB James-Michael Johnson, G Ryan Miller, OLB Emmanuel Acho, DE Billy Winn, CB Trevin Wade, TE Brad Smelley
-Key Departures: CB Dmitri Patterson, RB Peyton Hillis, OT Tony Pashos, OT Steve Vallos
Outlook: The Browns have been a team in turmoil for about a decade. After an impressive draft class, it’s easy to say their key new additions are all rookies. Weeden should immediately start over Colt McCoy. Their WR core is very young with a lot of potential with Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin in the slot. Trent Richardson was hands down the best RB to enter the NFL draft this year. He should have an impressive rookie year. The Cleveland offensive line is not a bunch of slouches. Their defense is another question. CB Joe Haden still hasn’t quite figured it out, and their best defensive player Phil Taylor tore his Achilles before training camp even started. The offense is headed in the right direction, but the defense is another story.
Prediction: 4th in division, 4-12 overall
-Key Additions: TE Leonard Pope
-Rookies: G David DeCastro, T Mike Adams, LB Sean Spence, DT Alameda Ta'amu, RB Chris Rainey, WR Toney Clemons, TE David Paulson, CB Terrence Frederick, OT Kelvin Beachum
-Key Departures: Hines Ward (retirement), CB William Gay, ILB James Farrior
-Outlook: One of the most consistent teams in NFL history. For them to fire OC Bruce Arians was a shocker around the league. Hiring Todd Haley to replace him was even more of a shock. The Steelers are dealing with a frustrated WR in Mike Wallace, probably the 5th on the list who is frustrated and wants a new contract. Speculations have been out that the Steelers might trade Wallace during training camp. They also drafted RB Chris Rainey from Florida to give them the dimension to their running game that Willie Parker once did. With or without Mike Wallace, who is an x-factor in games, the Steelers will still be fine. Antonio Brown is just as good, if not better. Losing Wallace will only create more opportunities for Emanuel Sanders to prove how good he is. He was a stud in college at SMU. Expect another consistent year from Pittsburgh.
Prediction: 2nd in division, 11-5 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: CB Alan Ball, LB Bradie James, FB Moran Norris, K Shayne Graham, P Donnie Jones
-Rookies: OLB Whitney Mercilus, WR DeVier Posey, OG Brandon Brooks, C Ben Jones, WR Keshawn Martin, DT Jared Crick, K Randy Bullock, OT Nick Mondek
-Key Departures: T Eric Winston, G Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, LB DeMeco Ryans, LB Mario Williams, WR Jacoby Jones, TE Joel Dreessen, FB Lawrence Vickers
-Outlook: For a team to let key players like DeMeco Ryans and 1st overall pick Mario Williams go without hesitation, you’d think they were sure to be headed in the wrong direction. Not the Houston Texans, though. For Wade Phillips’ 3-4 base defense, and after losing their defensive ace Mario Williams in week 5 against the Oakland Raiders with a torn pectoral muscle, they did not miss a beat. With the addition of 1st round draft pick Whitney Mercilus and free agent MLB Bradie James, they’ll fill in the vacant spot Williams and Ryans left. That being said, they still have All-Pro MLB Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin; 2nd year players Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt, that front 7 is still crowded and full of unselfish players willing to do whatever it takes to win. TE Dreessen won’t be desperately missed, as they still are able to run their 3 Tight End sets with Owen Daniels, James Casey and rookie Logan Brock. The Texans were able to make the playoffs with 3rd string QB T.J. Yates, as they were doomed with injuries all season long. They lost starting QB Matt Schaub late in the season, then backup QB Matt Leinart on the first drive he was put in after Schaub’s injury. To add insult to injury with losing the QB’s, Mario Williams and starting RB Arian Foster for 3 games, star WR Andre Johnson only played in 7 games last year (excluding the 2 playoff games). Not sure if their offense will click as well as they did the last two seasons because they lost offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp. But with Wade Phillips calling the defense, you can guarantee they’ll be fine. Schaub is under significant pressure as this is his contract year. If he can take the pressure and perform as well as he did last season prior to the injury, the Texans will be back in the playoffs.
-Prediction: 1st in division, 12-4 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: LB Jarrett Johnson, DL Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, SS Tom Zbikowski, RB Deji Karim
-Rookies: QB Andrew Luck, TE Coby Fleener, TE Dwayne Allen, WR T.Y. Hilton, DT Josh Chapman, RB Vick Ballard, WR LaVon Brazill, OT Justin Anderson, DE Tim Fugger, QB Chandler Harnish
-Key Departures: QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, WR Pierre Garcon, TE Dallas Clark, C Jeff Saturday, LB Gary Brackett, LB Phillip Wheeler
Outlook: Talk about an organization heading in a new direction. After getting rid of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, the Colts decided to clean house. Manning carried that organization for over a decade. Now it is in the hands of rookie Andrew Luck. New Head Coach Chuck Pagano plans to run a similar defense to the one he ran in Baltimore. Whether he has the right pieces to run it is the question, however. The Colts managed to keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, while also signing former Ravens OLB Jarrett Johnson. Those 3 are penned in to be the pass rushers. The secondary is still very suspect, wit the exception of Antoine Bethea. Just like it took Peyton a few years to figure it out, I think the same case will be with Andrew Luck. No knock on his talent and upside, but he has a very scarce supporting group to help him make plays. He’ll be all right in the future.
Prediction: 4th in division, 5-11 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, WR Lee Evans, QB Chad Henne, DE Jeremy Mincey
-Rookies: WR Justin Blackmon, DE Andre Branch, P Bryan Anger, OLB Brandon Marshall, CB Mike Harris, DT Jeris Pendleton
-Key Departures: WR Kassim Osgood, WR Jarett Dillard, RB Deji Karim, DT Leger Douzable
-Outlook: Several rookie QBs were taken last year within the first 2 rounds. The Jaguars took Blaine Gabbert 10th overall last year. He struggled early on and looked horrible in some situations. Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder all looked better than Gabbert last season. But make no mistake; Gabbert had arguably the worse WR group in the NFL last year. Now with Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Lee Evans and returning TE Marcedes Lewis, he could flourish with those targets. Basically, the team will only do as well as Gabbert takes them. If he can’t get the job done, they made the decision to pick up Chad Henne via free agency for insurance. Their front 7 played well throughout the season. They have one of the most underrated DL in the league in C.J. Mosley. The stats aren’t quite eye opening, but Mosley, Terrence Knighton and Jeremy Mincey held it down in run defense last year. With the addition of rookie Andre Branch, they now have a pass rusher who can pressure the quarterback. Still rebuilding, but the Jags are headed in the right direction. That is only if they work something out financially with one of the best RBs in the league, Maurice Jones-Drew, who will not report to training camp without a new contract. Pay the man.
-Prediction: 3rd in division, 6-10 overall
-Key Additions/Re-Signs: LB Kamerion Wimbley, G Steve Hutchinson, DT Leger Douzable
-Rookies: WR Kendall Wright, OLB Zach Brown, DT Mike Martin, CB Coty Sensabaugh, DE/TE Taylor Thompson, S Markelle Martin, DE Scott Solomon
-Key Departures: DE Jason Jones, LB Barrett Ruud, CB Cortland Finnegan, WR Donnie Avery
-Outlook: First and foremost, who’s going to be the starting QB in Tennessee? Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck are gonna shoot it out for the starting QB spot. Hasselbeck was the starter last year during Locker’s rookie season, but Locker saw significant playing time, as Hasselbeck was often injured. He proved he is worthy of a 1st rounder. Chris Johnson was in a slump last year after coming off a career season and getting a new contract. Kendall Wright was drafted to compliment Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, who has top 5 potential if he stays healthy. However, Britt recently got a DUI, after being warned last year by the Commissioner that he’d be punished if he keeps up the off-field altercations. So don’t be surprised if Britt is suspended for the first quarter of the season, at most.
-Prediction: 2nd in division, 10-6 overall
****2012 NFC Outlook****